1. another wasted day
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    another wasted day Member

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    How to make characters seem genuine?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by another wasted day, Apr 17, 2011.

    I have a problem in that my writing is a bit...stiff? When I read over what I've written, my characters all seem robotic and disingenuous. I want to make them real people with real emotions but I can't seem to get the hang of it.
    Any tips on making them more realistic? Sorry if something like this was already posted.
     
  2. bumblebot
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    bumblebot Senior Member

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    Maybe try posting a snippet of interaction for critique, it's tough to get specific with no examples.

    Watch people. Listen to exchanges. Free write about your characters' personalities.
     
  3. Smoke
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    Smoke Contributing Member

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    "Casting" actors to your characters seems to work for a lot of people.
     
  4. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Characters take time to nurture and get to know you. If you are on your first draft they will seem a little wooden to start with - if you read your work are you finding they are starting to change after so many words ?

    Some of the things I do:
    1) Find an actor/singer preferably someone who does both and who has a youtube presence and who resembles your character. Use them for ideas about body language, physicality etc (like does he have a funny nose, pasty skin, glasses etc)

    2) Scrapbooks with pictures of their settings, clothes they may wear, pets they own, immediate family etc

    3) I give mine a theme tune or playlist that defines them that I listen to whilst writing.

    4) Using the setting thesaurus and emotion thesaurus from the Bookshelf Muse - they allow me to ground the character in their settings, use body language etc. Pay as much attention to what they are doing as what they are saying.

    5) They keep blogs, I write short stories with them etc - Also try writing little pieces first-person present tense right inside their head, just a short piece etc.
     
  5. Azeher
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    Azeher Member

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    I think the trick is that you get to fully know them and like them. The more you know them the more personal and interesting caracteristics they'll have and the better you'll be able to describe them.
    Also, you should try a some sort of research between the people closer to you. Ask them all kinds of things that lead them to show you all kinds of reactions. That way you'll learn about what's realistic and what not.
     
  6. dizzyspell
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    dizzyspell Active Member

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    What I do is similar to method acting, but for writing. For a few days at a time I will be one of my characters. I'll tackle every problem I get as though I am them, and I won't let myself break character. Often, I'll give me boyfriend the draft of a chapter and start "acting it out" with him, once I've "been" my character for a few days. It really helps, and it's heaps of fun!

    Also, if thats too extreme, basic hot seating exercises can be good. Just get someone to ask questions of your character, and answer them as your character would. Also lots of fun, and it can be very insightful :)
     
  7. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    Don't focus on the external (despite all the good advice in this thread so far). That's almost always completely irrelevant to a character seeming genuine (or else no sci-fi alien would ever seem genuine, eh).

    The important thing, as dizzyspell points out above me I now see (hah), is basically understanding the inner workings of your characters. Method acting is a great technique. I've spent literally months just thinking about a character, what they'd do is situation I'm in in real life, how they'd respond to the idiot in front of me driving slowly, what they'd be looking at were they in line at the grocery store.

    99% of the time authenticity of a character breaks down because they don't behave like a person. Rarely do you just not believe a character is real because of their hair color or how they shake hands, because people look and even do crazy things, but if it's explained and supported by believable internal motivations and processes, then it will still seem real and genuine.

    It's also how to make character's feel unique. I see so many young writers struggling to find some external trait that will make their character different and unique, not realizing all that has been done, and the thing that defines us all as people is who we are on the inside, our thoughts and experiences and feelings and all that crap that is hard to do, and so often feels lacking in fiction.

    And if you're getting your insights from a list that another person has compiled... then... yeah.
     
  8. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    One possibility: You could try separating the plot of your fiction, and the development of your character, by writing some "throwaway" pages of activities for your character. For example, something as simple as sending him out to a restaurant for dinner would let you exercise his personality. Does he eat somewhere cheap or expensive? What does he eat? He's eating alone, so what does he do in place of conversation--does he read, putter on his cell phone, people watch? How does he interact with the waitress? When his steak comes overdone, how does he deal with that? How well does he tip? I'm not suggesting that you answer these questions directly, but that you write the scene and see what happens.

    None of this is particularly interesting for your final story or book, but it might help you figure out who your character is.

    ChickenFreak
     
  9. Brandonriederer
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    Brandonriederer New Member

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    The best way to make the protagonist more of a person than a character is to give each character their own specific traits! Think of yourself for a second; you meet someone that you can connect with, what is it about them that creates that feeling? Being sympathetic is always a good trait for a protagonist but it doesn't have to stop their. You can also give them specific tags or belongings that they are often found carrying or have a special connection to. This creates a unique image to the reader of your character. This principle can also work for your antagonist (What makes you really dislike a person).

    Readers also like to read about characters who are stuck in exotic positions. It seems as if it is contradictory to making a character become more real but this is essential to writing a great story. No one likes to read about a character who does normal, run-of-the-mill things and lives a plain life. Its BORING! So when you write, try to throw him in an exotic position of some sort. This also can help you build up a subplot.

    Lastly, a main character needs to be exaggerated. (again it seems contradictory to making a character more real but it is essential to develop a character that can manipulate the readers feelings and makes their characters unique). Emotionally and physically, they must meet some sort of extreme. Like a hero for example, very strong and athletic but may have a serious emotionally drawback such as rage. Or the other way around, a young boy, small and weak but is incredibly intelligent.

    Main Characters must also be exaggerated when dealing with the problems they encounter throughout the story. For example, if the "main character returns to his tribe that is burnt to the ground and finds his father lying lifeless around the ashes of his home, while the embers were still glowing, and he simply kneels by his side as tears begin to roll down his flushed face." Okay, the main character is obviously sad but let's try this instead... "the main character returns to his tribe that is burnt to the ground and finds his father lying lifeless around the ashes of his home, while the embers were still glowing, and he rushes to his side and kneels before him as tears began to gush from his eyes as his mind flashed through thoughts reminiscing his life memories with his father and how much he was going to miss the warming touch that his father's genuine smile would radiate like a white aura." Okay, so with the help of a little bit of exaggeration, now the reader not only see's that the main character is in distress (a real problem that people can sympathize with or at least empathize with) but they also understand something deeper; that is that the main character had a special connection with his father (more reader sympathy and empathy!).

    I hope this helps and good luck writing!
     
  10. cybrxkhan
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    cybrxkhan Contributing Member

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    I think an important distinction must be made in fiction between that which is realistic and believable - a distinction which is important not just to characters, but to a lot of other things, including dialogue and plot. It's very closely related to the idea of suspension of disbelief. Basically, the thing is, you can't have 100% realistic characters, because most of the time in real life, people are generally boring; interesting, engaging, and believable is not necessary the same as realistic. A lot of people may not have an idea of how a "real" international spy or a "real" ruler of a medieval kingdom, which is why you don't need to have someone who is 100% realistic, but rather, someone whom the audience will find believable who seems like the could be real.

    If any of that makes sense.

    Anyhow, other things to consider:

    1. Think about your characters' motivations. What makes them who they are, or what makes them act the way they do? Personally, I think coming with good motivations helps a lot with thinking up of other parts of the character, from their traits to their common-place body language to who they like or hate. In fact, two characters who share similar personality traits may turn out to be very, very different based on their motivations and past history. For instance, let's say we have two characters who are always angry and frustrated. However, they are two very different people if, say, Character 1's family was killed when he was young, so he wants revenge and is distrustful of everyone and tries to scare everyone off, and if Character 2 is a spoiled brat raised in a rich family but knows about his personality flaw but can't figure out how to deal with it, so he just lashes out his frustrations on people. Two characters with similar behaviors, but two very different motivations.


    2. Think about the characters' social life - who do they interact with, and how? Humans are, generally, social animals, so it's important to know what kind of people your characters will interact with and how they interact with them. Even loners will probably have one person they'll talk to, even if barely, like the guy they buy food from at the grocery store. Thinking about how a character will interact with different people that present different situations and scenarios will help you, I think, consider what kind of person your character is. Different people generally act differently towards different groups of people.

    3. Steal personality traits, behaviors, attitudes, and so forth from real people, or even from other fictional characters. This always works for me. You don't need to - and shouldn't, anyways - steal an entire person or character wholly; however, perhaps there are interesting tidbits or parts of these people that might help make your characters more fully. A lot of my characters are based off some of the people I've known from the past, and oftentimes it makes things easier for me, because instead of struggling to envision somebody I haven't and will never meet, I can just use someone I know as a reference.

    Just a few tips; hope it helps.
     
  11. psychotick
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    psychotick Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hi,

    I have a similar problem though not so much with the main characters. Sadly, and not particuarly surprisingly they are like me. They do fairly much what I would do - or want to do - given the situation. So they feel real at least to me. But I have a flaw (well a lot really but only one relevant to this thread!), I simply can't do evil.

    I discovered this first when I started playing RPG's and realised I simply didn't have it within me to play a baddie. Its stupid really, I know its all make believe and nothings real and no one's going to be hurt, no one's even watching, but I still can't bring myself to start murdering the innocent NPC's for no reason. (I can do stealing for some reason - not sure what this says about me?)

    Then in one of my as yet still unfinished novels I needed a psychotic villain, cannibal, rapist, murdering, self involved superman - that sort of thing, and I discovered I had terrible trouble writing him. I could write what he did, I could give him dialogue, and even develop a psychological background for him, but I couldn't get into his head. So he remains a sort of two dimensional character, someone written about, but never from the perspective of.

    Cheers.
     
  12. Ion
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    Ion Senior Member

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    Don't make your characters seem genuine. Make them genuine.
     
  13. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hmm ... body language, interaction with other characters, facial expression, even the way they look is not entirely external and their settings are important. Without these a character can have all the thoughts in the world but will be flat. You asked about genuine not powerful or emotional.

    Not everyone shakes hands the same way, does he kiss a ladies hand, is it a firm grip, a light hold, is he scared of catching germs etc How many people in real life base their opinion on a handshake ? Maybe he doesn't shake hands, maybe he kisses, or hugs, places his arm rounds someone, does he blush or boldly press forward. Does your character walk confidently or shrink back. Do they hide when someone walks past them in the street etc

    Is he rolling his eyes, raising eyebrows, wrinkling his nose, is he smiling at something, grinning, smirking, can he snigger, snort, laugh, grin. What does he find fascinating to stare at. This is all part of how you show your character's outward display of their inner reaction.

    The place your character lives and works has a impact on the kind of person he is, does he have a beer in the fridge or a malt whiskey in a cabinet. Does he swig it out of the bottle or use a glass. Does he cook his own food or have someone do it for him or order a takeaway? Does he hang his clothes up at night, is someone ripping them off, is he just dumping them on the floor or a chair? Does he take good care of his cats? Is he going home to be on his own ? What is he watching on the TV ?Does he have eight kiddies or does the idea scare him ?

    Does he live in a sleepy village or a big town ? Who does he visit ?

    Even the way he looks for example with my characters -Tim can do puppy dog eyes, Joe would look silly trying, Socrates can flounce and pout and not looks stupid, Nate just hasn't got the same ability to carry it off, Angus has body issues and tries to hide, Socrates gets compliments on his behind, Nate got teased for his beaklike nose etc People who know they are handsome etc carry themselves differently in some circumstances.

    One of my current main characters dresses in designer grey suit, elegant ties, white shirt, polished black shoes, grey overcoat, maroon scarf, maroon leather gloves and a grey fedora. He carries a smart grey leather backpack.

    His companion wears bright-red shirt, black trousers and tie, bright stripey socks with a hole in them, brown fleece lined boots, a brightly coloured checked padded coat with hood, brightly coloured scarf, black beanie hat, and he carries a purple backpack with Grumpy Care Bear on the front. He also has bright-yellow undies with crude slogans on them.

    I guess dressing a character tells you nothing about their character does it ? You character as they interact and fit into their world has five senses - he walks past a hotdog stand the aroma makes his tummy grumble, he smiles as the sweet scented flowers lift his mood.

    Without the external there is a huge part of a person missing - they need their body to react and show their internal.

    For an ability to build a character in a short space of time my favourite two are Shakespeare and Dolly Parton - very rare is that down to internal musing it is dialogue and interaction - Jolene is a temptress with beautiful skin and red hair, Little Sandy is a little girl in rags who is abused and neglected, Joshua is a lonely man who is ostracised by society and is a little odd but actually very kind. Backwoods Barbie is a woman who made her money through her looks but isn't dumb. She is good at a variety characters but her child characters are particularly powerful and fully rounded. Or you could read Islander on here - he is really good.
     
  14. Trilby
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    Trilby Contributing Member Contributor

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    Study Dickens - when it comes to characters he had it nailed.

    On saying that - out there in the big wide world to-day, I don't see the vast array of characters about that I did in my youth.

    I wonder, could it be the improvement in, the education of the masses.
    Is our improved education system, churning out clones? or are we being brainwashed by the media?

    Or maybe I just don't get out and about as much as I used to.
     
  15. Islander
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    If I understand the OP right, his immediate problem is about making the characters seem alive from paragraph to paragraph. For that, I think it's most important to show how the characters react to the situation around them. It doesn't need to be unique or deep; everyone sweats in the same way when they're warm, or fidgets in the same way when they're nervous. You just need to hint, through body language and dialogue, that there's a real, breathing, feeling person underneath the hunk of flesh.

    Giving your characters individual traits and motivations are important to make them believable in the long run, of course.
     
  16. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Islander's post says this so well !!! I agree entirely - when you know how someone will greet another person, how they will react to them you understand a lot of their internal motivation. The story for me builds the internal - the external helps me know how they will react and tell the story. I let their internal build naturally. It is also how I write so quickly I don't need to think about how a character will behave in a situation - I know how they will physically react which then gives the internal reaction. I find it keeps them quirky, natural and consistent throughout a novel length story.

    For example I know Joe will politely breathe and deal with Inspector Mustard's BO, never even talk about it with others - whereas Tim holds his nose and makes sick noises. For Inspector Mustard's Secret Santa he was given deodorant and soap. He was very upset. Which character sent it ? Which character got angry about what he saw as 'disrespect' and bullying - I know lol. When we go into a stately home Joe is relaxed and at ease makes himself at home. Sits on a sofa with his legs crossed and picks up one of the magazines to read. Tim on the other hand is concerned with the decor, looking round his mouth slightly ajar, he perches on a Queen Anne chair and looks round the room. Makes comments about the eyes looking at him from the portraits. When Lord White-Bay enters which one stands nervously waiting for him to make the first move and which one stands up walks towards him with hand extended, 'Hello I am ... '

    Tim was brought up as the youngest of five brothers with a single father, he shared a bedroom with two other brothers. Joe was brought up by two progressive Aunts. When they are going through a lady's handbag (purse) they find the feminine hygiene products, one blushes and throws it straight back in the other laughs easily at his reaction. Which one was uncomfortable with glamour pictures of the Earl's girlfriend, which one cracked jokes ?

    All this was built from watching David Tennant in Blackpool and Lee Mead on a talent show. Then from scrapbooks that showed what they wore (which hinted at personality and background), Tim's three cats (Dempsey, Makepeace and Tripod) hint at his personality - the two cats are named after a rather naff cops and robbers show, Tripod is three-legged. As soon as I saw Aunts Lilac and Lavender I knew they were free sixties-hippie people but kind of prim and proper with it (They met in prison one punched a policeman at a rally for searching her (she calls it 'groping' ), the other for 'horticulture'), their house tells a lot about how Joe was brought up and is still treated (he is spoiled rotten). The house Tim had chosen for himself also gave me a greater insight into how he interacted with the town he lived in and therefore the people in it. I had expected him to pick a modern flat but he actually lives in a tiny, very old (probably georgian or pre industrial revolution) terraced maisonette up an medieval close in the centre of town - doesn't even own a car. His home is nothing like I would have given him without the scrapbook.
     
  17. Islander
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hey, sorry for changing my post after you commented it. I'm not sure which version says it best now :)
     
  18. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    lol now it doesn't matter - you are worth listening to on characterisation either way :)
     
  19. KillianRussell
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    KillianRussell Contributing Member

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    I personally missed the memo and missed Miss Crapabble's 11th grade creative writing workshop and I am glad I did ! The concept that every sentence must move the plot is short sighted.The bestseller list occupants often exposes character depth is by writing throw away passages Miss C. would deem unworthy. They use these passages to show how a character acts,reacts ,overeacts, under-reacts to common obstacles in everyday life in the 43rd Galaxy


    . After your character reacts poorly or calmly in a prior throwaway, when the bushing of his spacecraft fails due to the budget cuts of a beak nosed, bean counter,turned CEO of the mission, back home on Planet Inkdunk, readers can envision his eyeroll
     
  20. funkybassmannick
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    funkybassmannick Contributing Member

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    I find it's easiest to make your characters seem more real by reading up on various personalities. They make personality tests for people to see what type of personality they fit into. There are different schools of thought, and thus different tests, but I've taken a few and it's scary how accurate they can be about me. Below, I give you two tests that I think work really well for helping you develop characters. You can check out the description of each personality type, and see what types fit which characters.

    1) Enneagrams
    http://www.enneagraminstitute.com/

    2) Myers-Briggs Type Indicator
    http://www.personalitypage.com/high-level.html

    Read the summaries of each personality type, and then see which of your characters fit with which types. The Myers-Briggs has more personality types, but the Enneagrams system is a little easier to wrap your head around at first. Both help you define core motivations and fears for each character, and what they do under stress, etc.
     

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